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An update from our CEO, Steven Alton ahead of Sunday's lockdown easing announcement

As we head into the VE Day Bank Holiday weekend, wherever we turn, there is uncertainty and speculation on every aspect of Coronavirus and specifically how it affects our pubs. When will lockdown end? How we will manage the processes around reopening our pubs whilst keeping our customers, staff and families safe? Who needs to decide all of that? Government? The public? Us? And currently, it is all just that – speculation.

 

We have been working hard with the other key industry bodies to ensure that any decisions made about your pubs by Government are as well informed as they can be. Using vital information from surveys, but also from our constant interactions with you, our members, on a daily basis, we have ensured that your voice is heard in the places it matters most.

With the public mood swinging from, at one end of the spectrum, the huge desire to get back into our Great British pubs, to the other end with conversations around social distancing being in place until 2021, we need to focus our efforts on the economic realities that you are facing as business owners.  

Unfinished business – closing the gaps 

Whilst Government’s significant financial support measures and swift payments through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme have ensured that the majority of your staff were protected, 50% of BII members are struggling with getting access to any form of wage assistance for themselves as Company Directors. For those that can access the help for the self-employed, you are still a month away from that cash at least. 

Many of you are entitled to a grant but have not yet received it, we encourage you to continue to put pressure on your local authority, as we continue to apply that pressure on a national basis to speed up this process further and get the cash owed to pubs into their bank accounts. 

With 1 in 5 pubs not eligible for a grant payment at all, with a rateable value of over £51k, this has significantly affected our local pubs and is not a ‘big business’ issue. These pubs are at the centre of our communities and are the landlords and ladies that you know personally. They are not faceless large businesses with significant cash in the bank to fall back on. And without these grants, and with no money coming in for 7 weeks now, they are in an impossible situation.

The immediate question for you all at the heart of our great pubs is not about how we get people across the country out of lockdown or the impact of it is having on our collective wellbeing. It is the urgent economic issue of how we look after our pubs and ensure their businesses and teams can come through this pandemic with their livelihoods, as well as their lives intact. 

We will continue to engage Government and the Chancellor to gain commitment to resolve these issues. Because when we do return to a more normal existence, the good that pubs do will be needed more than ever. 

Approach with Government

As you will have seen, we wrote to Rishi Sunak on 28th April, highlighting the headline findings from our member survey and detailing what support is needed now as well as what can be done going forward.

You can read that letter here.

That survey also gave us key data on your biggest concerns surrounding reopening – and there are understandably, a great number. That information has been sent into Government via the Hospitality Sector Support Team in the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and we have further meetings in place with them in the coming days. 

We will ensure that they are made fully aware of the unique nature of pubs, why they are the cornerstone of our society, and why social distancing will be a significant challenge for a large proportion of your venues.

If you are a member, you can also view that data here.

Our message is centred on needing definitive support for those who can open their businesses, but will trade at a loss; also for those who cannot open their pubs as they won’t be able to achieve the standards of social distancing set by Government – whatever they may be. 

Along with the other key industry bodies, we are engaging with the senior team at BEIS on an ongoing basis; doing everything we can to ensure Government understands the complexity of what is needed for the survival of our vibrant and essential sector; a specifically detailed plan that goes much further than just "When can we reopen?" 

There will be no one-size-fits-all approach to this phased reintroduction. 

Business Insurance

We have spoken before about the heartening level of collaboration within our industry, our trade associations and suppliers across the board, since the beginning of this crisis.

The one notable exception has been the complete lack of support from the sector we had hoped would be our saviours in this critical time – insurance providers. We know that there has been a collective failure nationally, and indeed internationally, with underwriters who are denying claims for Business Interruption for hospitality businesses across the board.  

We are approaching this at the highest level with senior executives and influencers in the insurance industry, alongside the challenges from the FCA surrounding the legality of denying these claims. We are aware of class actions against specific providers, which may pave the way for more claim denials being overturned, but in the short term, we would urge you to not cancel your policies whilst these processes are taking place. 

Next steps

As we hear more about the plans for easing lockdown on Sunday, we will begin to move into the next phase of this crisis, and I want to reassure you that your BII team will continue to work hard to provide real clarity on the situation as it unfolds. Over the next few weeks, there will be a lot of opinion as well as fact.

When we have those facts, we will give you clear, actionable information to guide you through the next steps for you and your business – ensuring you can get back to doing what you do best, serving your customers and being the hubs of your communities; providing comfort, support and friendship with every drink or plate of food. 

We know that many of you will be feeling anxious about what lies ahead, but we want to reassure you that the BII will be here to offer you support, not just in fighting for your businesses at Government level, but also individually through our support services, actionable information and expert helplines. 

 

Steven Alton,
Chief Executive 

 

 

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